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April 18, 2013

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg

hank greenberg 1.jpg

Aviva Kempner - 2000
The Ciesla Foundation All Region DVD

So we're into baseball season, but also it might be considered less than coincidental that this new DVD version of Aviva Kempner's documentary is released almost at the same time as the theatrical release of the new movie about Jackie Robinson, 42. While Hank Greenberg was not the first Jewish major league player, he was the first one to be a national celebrity. Retired from the field, and as part of the front office of the Cleveland Indians, Greenberg did his part to make baseball racially integrated. Additionally, during his last year as a player, although playing on opposing teams, Greenberg was one of the first to be openly supportive of Robinson, as well as establish a personal friendship.

I had seen this film during its original theatrical release. If you haven't seen it any format, get to it!

hank greenberg 2.jpg

The original film includes a commentary by Kempner who discusses the thirteen years it took to make her movie. In additional to archival footage and photographs of Greenberg and other players, there are clips from several classic baseball movies. Near the end, there is also the inclusion of one of the high points from the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera, where the orchestra plays "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", with ball tossing between Chico and Harpo, while Groucho hawks the "peanuts and Crackerjacks". The film begins with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" sung in Yiddish, which sets the stage for the main thesis, about is almost as much about Jewish life in America as it is about Hank Greenberg.

The main reason that this new DVD release replaces the previous version is because of the second disc. At over two hours, it's virtually a whole second movie. In addition to deleted segments of interviews with celebrity fans like Walter Matthau and Alan Dershowitz, there's a further investigation into the history of baseball. We're not talking simply about who played and when, but also how the game was played. Part of this history is of how Babe Ruth changed the game, with the support of fans, to one of power hitting and home runs. Also, how many of the early major league players were from the rural south, citing Dizzy Dean as a prime example. The additional footage may also put to rest any debate as to whether Greenberg was robbed of the opportunity to meet or beat Babe Ruth's record of home runs in a single season. One of the other bonuses of this second disc is the inclusion of a telephone interview Kempner made with baseball great Ted Williams.

When it comes to baseball, I am admittedly a casual fan. Still, after a little more than ten years, I was excited about seeing this documentary again. And for the more die hard baseball fan, this is a great way to spend the time when the game you planned to watch is blacked out or rained out, or worse, locked out.

This new edition of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg can be ordered here.

hank greenberg 3.jpg

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 18, 2013 09:14 AM


I love this movie. My awareness of Greenberg was pretty much zero until Ken Burns' documentary, but even after that there had been very little to reach out and expose his story to the casual fan, which I was at the time the time Burns' doc first aired. So TL&TOHG came as quite a revelation to me, especially since his story has several parallels with that of Robinson's. I also love how the movie, as you say, becomes as much a story of Jewish life and assimilation as it does about baseball-- there are plenty of Jews among the throngs of fans of baseball, and almost as many great writers and analysts of the game who were of Jewish descent. Interesting how the movie accentuates without being heavy-handed about it just what it meant for a Jew to be a great player as well, and in the process illuminating for many who follow the game casually the great contributions of Jewish players since Greenberg as well. Oh, and I can't wait to hear that Ted Williams interview!

But I still haven't seen 42...

Posted by: Dennis Cozzalio at April 25, 2013 08:15 AM

I hope you have the opportunity to weigh in on the film and extras. What really comes through is Greenberg's love of the game. There is also an amazing anecdote about three players Greenberg passed on for the Indians as less then promising, all considered among the all time greats.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at April 25, 2013 11:02 AM